Several years ago Germany switched from their traditional 13-year to a 12-year school system in order to follow the international standard. Now there is a general backlash against the 12-year system and in many places students are already offered a choice to return to the 13-year program. For one, many parents think that the 12-year program is too intense. The other consideration comes from the universities that complain that the students are just not mature enough after the 12-year program to handle higher academic thinking.
Rudolf Steiner, the creator of the Waldorf education movement, whose curriculum is based on the natural emotional and psychological maturation of the child, stated that we mature in seven-year cycles. Hence Waldorf schools in Germany, and elementary schools in Scandinavia in general, encourage waiting with first grade until around age 7. When the school system is more in tune with the natural developmental and psychological maturation cycle of the child it benefits everyone - not only the children, who are less frustrated and more eager, but teachers, professors, and the entire system down the line because the children are at their best, and the teachers have a better sense of accomplishment.
When I came over here it struck me that during the first two college years material is taught that is generally covered in high school in Europe. And in France students oftentimes attend a prep school year before tackling the entrance exam to one of the better universities, elongating the 12-year school instruction to 13 years.
Over here we have pushed academics on the kids ever earlier, and it's been frustrating for children and teachers alike. As much as we may try, we can't accelerate the natural maturation and personal developmental process. Our son went to a Waldorf Kindergarten and could not read or write when he entered the traditional first grade. Yet, he excelled and became the fastest and most prolific reader in his grade in a matter of months.